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Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on involvement of children in armed conflict

20-01-1997 Statement

Statement by The ICRC to the Working Group on a Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on involvement of children in armed conflicts on its third session, United Nations, Geneva, 20 January 1997

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC is honoured to accept the invitation extended to it by the Commission on Human Rights in its resolution 1996/85 to be represented at this session of the working group. Today, the ICRC will highlight some of the comments on the report of the Working Group, which were made in accordance with the request contained in that same resolution.

The ICRC strongly supports an optional protocol prohibiting both the recruitment of children under 18 years of age into the armed forces or armed groups and their participation in hostilities, to be added to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which is composed of the ICRC, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their Federation, feels that a large-scale response is necessary. To this end, its Council of Delegates adopted a resolution in 1995 requesting the drafting and implementation of a Plan of Action aimed at promoting the principle of non-recruitment and non-participation of children below the age of 18 in armed conflicts, and taking concrete action to protect and assist children victims of armed conflicts. The 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in Geneva in December 1995, also recommended that parties to conflict refrain from arming children under the age of 18 years and take every feasible step to ensu re that children under the age of 18 years do not take part in hostilities.

As it did during the previous two sessions of this Working Group, the ICRC wishes to express its opinion that harmonisation between the draft optional protocol and the principles of international humanitarian law must be ensured. In this context, the ICRC is concerned about the potential danger of lowering the reach of existing norms protecting children. Indeed, the optional protocol is meant to strengthen the levels of protection of the rights of the child, and this without creating additional legal loopholes.

In particular, the ICRC believes that the draft optional protocol should prohibit all forms of participation, whether direct or indirect, by children in armed conflicts. Such a total prohibition is already provided for under international humanitarian law applicable in non-international armed conflicts, namely in Protocol II additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. If the draft optional protocol were to prohibit only certain forms of participation, this could weaken this broader provision. In addition, experience in the field has shown that the distinction between direct and indirect participation is often virtually impossible to ascertain. Likewise, the distinction between voluntary and involuntary recruitment may in practice often be fluid and uncertain.

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC considers it essential that the provisions of the draft optional protocol be respected by all parties to a conflict, including those of a non-international nature. It is precisely in such situations that children are most at risk. It is therefore crucial that dissident forces or armed groups taking part in internal conflicts also be bound by the norms of the protocol and respect its provisions. Indeed, if the scourge of child soldiers is to be eradicated, the rules of international law must be respected by all those who are in an y way involved in armed conflicts. In this context, it must be stressed that international humanitarian law applicable in situations of non-international armed conflicts binds all parties to a conflict, including armed groups, without giving them a legal status.

The ICRC wishes to reiterate once more the hope that the efforts undertaken with a view to the adoption of a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child will lead to more effective protection for children in armed conflicts.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ref. LG 1997/005/ENG